Guns in the Workplace

Posted on April 10, 2007

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A war is raging between corporate America and the National Rifle Association.  These two conservative powerhouses are facing off in state legislatures over the gun lobby’s attempt to stop employers from exercising their property rights and barring workers from carrying firearms to work. 

A recent editorial in the New York Times entitled, Workers’ Safety and the Gun Lobby, took sides with employers:

Bills to deny this common-sense right to workplace safety were initially approved in three states. But they failed last year in such gun-friendly states as Florida, Georgia, Indiana and Virginia after business interests rose up in active opposition. The National Rifle Association is back at work harder than ever in a dozen states. But so are Chambers of Commerce and corporate executives, warning of the danger — and business liability — of forcing companies to allow workers to carry guns.

There is no debate that doing so endangers workers. Workplaces that tolerate guns are five to seven times more likely to suffer homicides than job sites that ban firearms, according to a 2005 study in The American Journal of Public Health. The notion that self-defense mandates keeping guns in office drawers or out in parking-lot glove compartments is a dangerous fantasy.

While I’m not an expert on the Second Amendment, I agree with the New York Times editorial.  Individual liberty does not trump the right of an employer to prohibit such dangerous items on its worksite, including the parking lot, for the safety of its workforce.  There have been too many stories in the news in the past several years where disgruntled and/or mentally disturbed workers have gone out to their vehicle in the parking lot to retrieve a firearm and then proceed to kill one or more individuals.  Just as employers have the right to prohibit the use of tobacco, alcohol and drugs on its premises by employees for the overall safety of its workforce, employers have the right to prohibit firearms.  Only in situations where a firearm is essential to performance of the job should firearms be allowed on the worksite (e.g., law enforcement, shooting range instructor).  If a worksite is so dangerous as to prompt an employee to bring a firearm to work for self-defense, an employer is not providing a safe workplace as mandated by OSHA and the employer should immediately remedy the situation to the extent possible.  If the workplace danger cannot be remedied, an employer may consider allowing firearms but only by workers that can show they have been properly trained in firearm use.  One of the most dangerous situations with firearms is the handling and attempted use of firearms by unskilled individuals.  Regardless, an employer in that situation should be aware of the increased liability posed.

Other blogs discussing this issue:

HR Web Cafe: Should Employers Have the Right to Ban Guns at Work?

Jottings By an Employment Lawyer: Guns vs. Business on the NYT Editorial Page

N. DeWayne Pope, DeWayne Pope LLC

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